Posted on July 16 2021 by Bryan King
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10 Years Earlier…
She thudded to the ground hard, her face feeling the abrasive effects of the sand and grit as she slid along her front. She took a moment to regain the breath that had been knocked from her body before climbing to her feet quickly and bringing her weapons in front of her in a defensive stance. Crude as they were, with their years of participation in battle evident from the plentiful knicks along their blades, they were still quite efficient. She eyed the young woman in front of her with determination and steeled herself. Her opponent, a girl who had been in the thralls of her developmental years for a bit now returned the gaze, the tip of her wooden sword tracing a path along the ground. She was several years younger than her opponent but that did little to sway her resolve. Today would be the day. At long last, she would best Zayeeri.
The older of the two began her approach–slow and methodical. Jenoa could tell she was sizing her up–making guesses as to what maneuver she may have to guard against. Jenoa, now in her tenth year had made great strides in her physicality to be sure, but she was a mere shadow compared to Zayeeri. She was young, but recognized that she would never match Zayeeri in brute strength no matter how hard she tried. In these contests, speed would be her ally. She ran forward, taking several swipes in Zayeeri’s direction, her blades batted away by the larger girl easily.
“Sloppy. Again,” Zayeeri said calmly, as though the effort from her sister had been completely wasted. Jenoa spun around and faced her again. She made every effort to not let the apathetic delivery of her sister’s instructions incense her. A twinge of anger had gotten through however, and she choked it down as best as she could before lunging forward again. She had learned, in quite painful ways, that anger could easily cloud a warrior’s mind. She spun about her sister, alternating her blows and trying to knock her off her balance, but it was in vain. She began to inch closer and closer, believing that maybe getting on the inside of her reach would give her an advantage. After all, she had two weapons and her sister had but one. She swiped upward with her right hand and brought her left inward. Zayeeri swiped away the left strike and reached up to grab the vertical slice with her bare hand. Jenoa froze, wide-eyed as she watched a line of blood flow from the inside of Zayeeri’s palm and down her blade. A swift blow to her nose sent her backward and she fell on her back, both hands on her face as she writhed around.
Jenoa, tears in her eyes scrambled to her knees and caught a quick glimpse of an observer on a balcony above the training grounds. She recognized the scowling woman as their mother, Hildani. Zayeeri joined her sister’s gaze upward and brought her wooden sword to rest at her side.
“You still use a training weapon meant for our youngest Zayeeri. Why is this?”
“I…” Zayeeri began, unable to find the words that might assuage her mother’s clear contempt.
“Do you know why you fail Jenoa?” Hildani asked of her other daughter, her tone one of boredom at a lack of explanation from Zayeeri.
“I’m not as old as she is,” Jenoa replied. “She’s bigger, still faster, she–”
“You are not afraid!” Hildani replied loudly, bringing both of the girls to full alert. “Fear is the most powerful weapon that any true warrior can have at their disposal. Anyone that tells you that they are stronger from lack of fear is a fool. Fear is what makes you sharp. Fear drives your inherent need for survival. Fear will give you strength when you believe you have none. Fear will make you rise to meet any foe and emerge victorious. How is she to learn of fear Zayeeri if you will not instill it in her?!” She paused and turned intent on Jenoa. “Zayeeri knows of fear,” she turned back to her older sister, “don’t you?”
Zayeeri, her gaze downward was visibly trembling, but Jenoa was unable to discern if it was through fear or anger. Perhaps both?
“You are to succeed me Zayeeri. Do not make me regret my decision. You know quite well what happens when you disappoint me. I have expectations, and Jenoa will meet those expectations, do you understand?”
“Yes.” Zayeeri uttered over the lump in her throat brought about by newly formed tears.
“I can’t hear you girl. Do you–”
“Yes!” Zayeeri exclaimed, looking intently at her mother. A pregnant pause hung in the air before Hildani walked away, the loud clacking of her sandals emanating throughout the chamber. Zayeeri stood for a moment, wiping away the tears and mucus from her face before walking briskly to the weapon stand. She threw down the wooden sword she had been using, an obvious attempt now at protecting Jenoa, and drew a large polearm. She swung it about and advanced, her jaw clenched.
“Pick them up,” she said gesturing to the two swords on the ground.
“Pick them up!” Zayeeri growled at her, still fighting back tears. Jenoa scrambled to the weapons and lifted them. Zayeeri wasted no time and immediately lunged forward, taking vicious swipes at her sister. It took every bit of effort Jenoa had within her to stave off the attacks. Zayeeri continued her assault, fueled by what Jenoa imagined was hidden reserves of rage. She began to believe more and more sincerely that perhaps her sister meant to kill her in this moment. Her movements became more erratic, causing Zayeeri to miss. She had become more ferocious herself, and found herself inadvertently taking more desperate, killing blows against Zayeeri. This continued on for what felt like an eternity before she had finally found a modicum of success. She struck a blow against Zayeeri’s right shoulder, causing the larger girl to bring her left hand up to cover it in reflex. She looked down at her palm, now coated in her own blood and looked viciously at Jenoa. She came forward now, faster than ever and struck outward in succession, her ferocity unwavering. Jenoa did what she could to parry the blows, but she found herself unable to keep up against the onslaught. In a striking moment of clarity, Jenoa could see the tip of the polearm inching toward her face, but she was not fast enough to react in time. The blade met her exposed eye, causing an unfathomable amount of pain to rack her body. She dropped her weapons and fell to her knees, moaning loudly in pain as she held her hands to her right eye. Zayeeri stood in disbelief of what she had just done, her jaw quivering as she reached outward toward her sister.
Their mother, who had returned looked on in quiet approval.